Coastal California Microclimates Suitable for Coffee Farming

Contributed by Hanna Almuti | Fourth Year | Agricultural Communications

When buying coffee beans, the variety of choices are endless. Several factors go into creating distinguishable cups of coffee; each harboring distinct flavors and tastes. Primarily, the type of coffee (arabica, robusta, specialty coffees, etc.), as well as the place and environment of origin, play a big role in producing different tasting coffee beans and their quality. The main coffee-producing regions are typically recognized as Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, and Indonesia. All of which encompass suitable growing conditions for the tropical crop to be farmed and mass-produced.

Recently, there’s been a large shift to purchasing locally as modern consumers begin buying ethical and environmentally safe agricultural products. However, coffee beans are typically only bought locally in Hawaii.

That is until the founding of FRINJ Coffee.

Coffee was thought to be an unviable crop to grow in the continental United States, until 2017, when the first commercially produced coffee company was founded in California. FRINJ coffee is a Santa Barbara-based agricultural cooperative pioneering coffee farming in California. Not only does the company grow, produce, and sell their own bags of coffee, but they also help farmers across the state establish their own coffee trees. The cultivation of coffee grown in California has seen success not only through FRINJ's unique farming techniques, but also from the effects of global climate change and the benefits of coastal California microclimates.

Global climate change has caused devastating issues in agriculture resulting in major crop losses. However, climate change has also offered a chance for crops to grow in places that were unsuitable before. Warmer climates can now inhabit more crops that are considered “specialty.” In California, average temperatures are expected to increase with higher daily temperatures and higher winter temperatures. This helps coffee farms in California reduce risks like frost damage and other climate issues that could prevent survivability. Extreme temperatures negatively affect the productivity of coffee trees and pose a threat to crops being grown in typical coffee growing regions like the tropical highlands. The tropical highlands produce nearly all the world's beans; but now with too many extensive heat periods, new export opportunities are opening up that other places like California could fill in the future.

The abundance of microclimates in California has allowed for the production of coffee as well as other subtropical commodities such as avocados, dates, almonds, and oranges. Often, quality coffee grows best in higher elevations where the fruit ripens slowly. However, the cooler temperatures of the tropical uplands also contribute to this effect. A microclimate is a small area within a climate zone where the climate is slightly different from the zone's predictions. California's coastal microclimates are cooled by the ocean breeze in the summer to help create the perfect replicated environment as if the fruit was produced in the upland tropics.

FRINJ coffee now works with 67 farms across the state and 42 in San Diego County implementing over 60,000 coffee trees on farms. On FRINJ's website, the company claims to provide California adapted, disease-free, high-yield, and high-quality varietals as well as production consulting services spanning from crop feasibility, layout and management, and lastly post-harvest services. John Ruskey, the founder of FRINJ coffee, genetically bred coffee plants to suit the California climate and soil conditions to create a suitable plant that is tolerant to climatic conditions. In an interview, Ruskey comments how arabica coffee (the most common species of cultivated coffee) contains 44 chromosomes while most plants contain just 11; making the genetic manipulation even more challenging. Furthermore, Ruskey claims that while coffee fruition has a longer growing process in the U.S. compared to foreign producing countries, the outcome is a tastier and more profile rich cup.

FRINJ coffee has seen popularity not only within California, but also internationally for achieving the unimaginable and for paving the way for the future of coffee growing. The future of California coffee is promising as climate change and microclimates help create the perfect coffee growing environment.